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Ettinghausen, Richard. -Islamic Art.-

Ettinghausen, Richard. -Islamic Art.-

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Published by Bubišarbi
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, V. 33, No. 1 (Spring, 1975)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, V. 33, No. 1 (Spring, 1975)

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Bubišarbi on May 08, 2013
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/-any peopleenvisionIslamic art in
termsofsumptuouslyelaboratedeco-ration ordelicatelydetailed miniaturepaintings.Rarer is the realizationofthe skill andsensitivityof the Islamic artist in thecreation ofthree-dimensionalorsculpturalob-jectssuch as those shownhere.Thesophisticateduse ofchanging planesin thedaggerhiltabove attests to ahighdegreeof artis-ticachievement,as well as thevirtuositythat wentintocarvingitshard,darkgreenjade.Inthestyl-izationof thedragonheads,whichemphasizestheirvitality,this15th-centuryPersianpiecehaslittlein commonwith the softsinuousnessof theultimate Chineseprototype.Strikingistheproudfiercenessof thebirdofpreyshown at the left.Its successas asculpturalformis not diminishedbytheperforations,neces-sitatedbyitsfunction as theupperhalf of a cast-bronze incenseburner,andthestar-shapedsundisk on thechestenhances its solarsymbolism.
Nephritehandle:Iran,15thcentury;1.41/2n.;GiftofHeberR.Bishop,02.18.765. Incenseburner:Iran,12th-13thcentury;h.31/in.;Gift ofRichard S.Perkins,69.2.1.
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Islamrric
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his bronze hroneegshapedike the
forepartof agriffinrepresentsaMuslimcontinuation of apre-Islamictraditionwith along historyinthe Near East:theidentificationofpowerful, wingedanimals-realandimaginary-withtheruler.Thegriffinwasahybridof two solarsymbols,the lion and theeagle,and was seen asavehicle ofascension,im-plyingtheruler'ssemidivinityand hisapotheosis.Althoughonlya few actualexamplessurvive,thronelegsinthe form ofeagles,wingedhorses,and theforepartofgriffinsare oftenrepresentedinSasanianandIslamic art.Thesymbolicassoci-ation with the ruler andmoreparticularlywith histhrone hasbecomemanifest inthismajesticexample.
Iran,late7th-early8thcentury;h.227/6 in.;Purchase,JosephPulitzerBequest,1971.143.
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slamic art is one ofthe finest manifestations ofIslamiccivilization.Happilythere is nolanguagebarrier,asinthecaseof thevarious Islamic literatures- primarilythose writteninArabic,Persian,and Turkish-noristherethenecessityofadjustingtodifferent harmonies andtonalqualityasinNearEastern music. It is not evenneces-saryto be familiar withacomplextheologyorelaboratesymbolismtoenjoythissumptuouslydecorativeart.Itsim-mediate aestheticappealis themain reasonwhythis art hasalwaysbeenreadilyacceptabletoWesterners.Islamicartwas createdinthe enormous area betweenMorocco andSpainintheWest,and Central Asia and IndiaintheEast,and it evengoesbeyondthis frontier. Chrono-logicallyit covers theperiodfromabout 700 to the 18th and19thcenturies,whenEuropeanmodes of artistic creationgreatly changedtheindigenousarts and crafts. The first im-portantcreative centersweregreaterSyria, Egypt,and IranwithitsCentral Asianhinterland,andmuch of the laterde-velopmentowes its character to theartoftheseregions,withtheirclassical,Byzantine,Coptic,andSasanianheritage.Atfirst,undertheUmayyad caliphateofDamascus andtheearlyAbbasidcaliphsinBaghdad,Islamic art had anecumen-icalcharacter;butfromabout750on,theenormousrealmof thecaliphatestartedtobreakup,apolitical disintegrationthat acceleratedinthe course of the9thcenturyandcon-tinued atanevermorerapidpacein thenextthreeand a halfcenturies.The universalcaliphatecame to an endwhentheMongols conquered Baghdadin 1258 and abolishedthe Ab-basidrule.Eversincethen theMuslim world has beendi-videdinto variousregionalentities,ofwhichEgypt,Turkey,Iran,andIndia were the moreimportantparts.The characteristicaspectof Islamic artisitsoverallunity,whilepresentingagreatdeal ofvarietyaccordingtoregionalpreferencesduringsuccessiveperiods.Theforces thatmoldedthis culturalidentitywere a universalreligion,anautocraticform ofgovernment,theeffectsofa harsh environ-mentandclimate,and auniformityof lifestyle-especiallythevitallyimportantfact that therewashardly anydifferen-tiation betweenreligiousand secularareas,includingthearts.Inaddition,there existed agreatinnermobility,allow-ingtheimpositionofdynastiesfromdifferentregions,themigrationoflargeethnicunits,and theextensivetransferofartistsandartisans from courtto court. Caravansandshipsdistributedmerchandisethroughoutthis vastarea,encourag-inglocal imitations.Thereligious obligationto visit thecen-tral shrineof theKa'bainMecca in Arabia at least onceinone'slifetime alsogreatlycontributed to a dissemination ofideas.osingleforceaffected theformationofIslamic artas muchastheattitudesengenderedbythereligionofIslamitself.Althoughnoofficialcodewas form-ulated withregardtoartisticactivities,certainprinciplesweredeveloped.TheProphetMuhammadre-gardedhimselfas anordinaryhumanbeing,sothemostimportantreligiousmotifwas thedivinemessageembodiedinthelanguageoftheKoran.Thiscaused theextensiveuseofpertinentKoranicsentencesasdecorativeelements,aswell asotherreligiousandsecularphrases.Since theArabicalphabetwastheuniversallyused formofwriting,and sinceitsletterseasilyallowedartfulvariations,inscriptionswerenearlyalwayscalligraphicallycomposed.Theythereforecame toconstituteaspecialIslamic artformthat isappliednotonlytobuildingsbut toeveryavailablemedium.AsIslamwasstrictlymonotheistic,noreligiousrepresen-tationalimagerydeveloped,andartistswererestrictedtothe useofmanyskillfulvariations ofinnocuouslystylizedplantsorgeometrical forms,particularlycontinuousstarpatterns,whichusually appearincombinationorconjunc-tionwithArabicwriting.AspecialIslamiccreationwas thearabesque,whichconsistsofasuccessionofhighlyabstractleavesorhalfleaves,appliedtogracefullywindingstems.Theirplayfularrangementcould fillanysurfaceelegantly,no matterhowlarge,small,oroddlyshaped.Thisrestrictedrepertoryinfluencedtheseculararts aswell. Whentheyemployedfiguresofanimalsor,morerarely,humanbeings(thatis,outsidethefield ofbookillustrations),theyusuallyrenderedtheminanabstract ortwo-dimen-sionalfashion.Thesameappliestotheevenmoreinfre-quentuse ofsculpture,whosecreationwasmostlyduetopersisting pre-Islamictraditions orforeigninfluences. Natu-ralisticrenditions ofplantsandanimals,togetherwithagreaterrealismintheportrayalofanimalandhumanfig-ures,appearedonlyfromthe16thcenturyon,especiallyinIranianandMughalIndiantextilesandcarpetsandonOttomanTurkishpottery,tiles,andfabrics.
Si
incethereexistedonlyaverylimitedrangeofthefiguralarts-whichhavebeen moreappreciatedbyWesterncollectorsthanbyartpatronsthroughmostoftheIslamicworld-theIslamicartist's main en-ergyhas notbeendirected intothetwo commonmajorcate-goriesofpainting(particularlymuralsandeaselpaintings)andsculpture.Instead,itwasfunneled intothedecorativearts,where allthedifferentmediabecamehighly developed.It ishard tosaywhich ofthesevariousbranches-pottery,tilemaking,metalwork,glasscuttingandenameling,ivorycarving,bookbinding,and soon-reached thehighestartistic
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